5 Tips for Working Remotely from Home and Caring for Children During COVID-19

Image Source: B Janning, Hastings, Nebraska

If we could press rewind and go back in time to mid-March, I wonder what you would have been doing.  The sudden and abrupt transition to working from home and having to juggle roles of employee, parent, and teacher all at once was certainly something most of us were not prepared for. Most of us had little time to plan how we would design our work space, daily schedules and balance work and family under one roof full time. If this sounds like your “new normal,” you are not alone.  I have found some helpful tips and words of encouragement I would like to pass along from a recent article by Holly Hatton-Bowers and Carrie L. Hanson-Bradley, Assistant Professors at the University of Nebraska.

TIP 1: Acknowledge Emotions:

Emotions are normal and healthy and give us clues to what we may need to feel better.

Dr. Dan Siegel says that it is helpful to “name it to tame it.”  We often feel emotions in our bodies first, such as tightness in our chest or a stiff neck. Siegel advises us to stop for a minute, pay attention to what we feel in our bodies and then name our emotion. The authors recommended saying, “My body feels…and the emotion I am experiencing is…”

Keep in mind that emotions are not forever, “name it, tame it” and move on. Judging ourselves for having emotions only makes us feel worse.

TIP 2: Manage Expectations:

It is difficult to juggle all of one’s roles at the same time, so do not expect to be able to fulfill all the roles you play at the same level you did before COVID-19. It can be helpful to understand that each individual manages change differently; and this is particularly true as families adjust to the newness of working from home, parenting, and teaching at the same time.  Some will embrace it as a new opportunity for creativity while others can feel overwhelmed.  

What about Parenting Expectations?

Daily routines will be different for each individual family.  Whether it be educational activities, or family time together, young children need more than ever right now is time to connect, cuddle, have a routine with some flexibility, and to feel safe.

Can you find ways to make every day activities fun for your child? Perhaps the family meal time could turn into a picnic on the floor.  Maybe you could make a game of sorting socks when doing the laundry. Try and be intentional about when you need to work and when to play or be with your children.  It’s like putting deposits in the bank, when children receive moments of our undivided attention, then they are more likely to feel okay when parents need to move away to focus on work.

TIP 3: Create a Schedule:

Sit down and create a schedule that works for your family.  Keeping in mind it is good to allow for flexibility. Schedule in work time and time for household chores. Time for children to play and do chores and school work too.  If there are two parents in the home, the adults could alternate work hours so as to keep children safe as well as giving them the parent connection time they need most.

Image source: Sara Gavin, Sacramento, California

TIP 4: Practice Self Care                                                                   

It is healthy to take time away to focus on what you need as an adult. Yet, when we are under stress, self-care is one of the first things that gets pushed aside. Here are a few strategies:

  • Listening to music
  • Taking the time to virtually connect with friends and family
  • Spend time in nature
  • Exercise
  • Practice deep breathing or meditation
  • Eating healthy
  • Reading or drawing,
  • Getting adequate sleep and waking up at the same time each day
  • Practice positive thinking, and/or practice gratitude

TIP 5: Be Gentle with Yourself

We are collectively experiencing a worldwide crisis, and crises trigger our brains into fight, flight or freeze mode. That means our brains are focused on surviving, not thriving. So it is normal to feel like you aren’t functioning at your peak level. Have you felt forgetful lately, not as motivated, or find yourself not knowing what day it is? It may be your brain’s way of protecting you in this time of stress.

Soon, we will be able to look back on this time and process what has happened, but in-depth processing happens only after one feels emotionally and physically safe. So in this time of crisis, be gentle with yourself (and with others). Self-compassion creates space where mistakes are viewed as valuable learning opportunities, tiny victories call for huge celebrations, and we can acknowledge our suffering without criticizing ourselves for being human.

More Resources Related to this topic:

Zero to Three – many resources of activities to do with children and tips for managing stress and being with the family during COVID-19.

Child Mind Institute – https://childmind.org/coping-during-covid-19-resources-for-parents/ (they have live Facebook video chats with clinicians

https://www.nebraskachildren.org/covid-19-information-and-resources.html

UNL A Beautiful Day website – ideas for engaging children (0-8 years) in learning and play activities https://cehs.unl.edu/abeautifulday/

Sesame Street have excellent resources for engaging children in learning at home activities during COVID-19, http://www.sesamestreet.org/caring

Tips for Managing Screen Time: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/parenting/manage-screen-time-coronavirus.html

Be Kind to Yourself https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201802/be-kind-yourself

Self-Care Tips During the Covid-19 Pandemic https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/self-care-tips-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Staying Active at Home https://food.unl.edu/article/family-food-fun-home#stayingactiveathome

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Holly Hatton-Bowers, Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska and Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Families Weathering the Storms

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In lieu of the recent natural disasters that have impacted Nebraska and neighboring states, I felt compelled to write about my personal experience. Fifteen years ago on May 24, 2004, I saw firsthand how one’s world as you know it can crumble in minutes, without warning.  My family survived the tornado that destroyed our house in rural Clay Center, Nebraska and then went on to destroy the town of Hallam, NE.  I hope to share my experience as a parent, and some advice to our readers.

May 24, 2004 was a lovely summer day, the first day of summer vacation for my children. We were sitting down together at the kitchen table finishing our evening meal, when out of the blue, our power went out for no apparent reason. I got up to clear the table and stack the dishes at the sink. I remember looking out the window to the west, thinking how strange for the power to be out. I told the boys, Trevor age 9, Calvin, age 8, and Chase age 3 to go downstairs to play while I checked the radio. My husband, Terry went outside to look. As soon as I turned on the radio, the warning alerted us that a Tornado was heading our way and to take shelter.

Terry came running into the house and yelled to get to the basement.  We all huddled under a table and I placed nearby sofa cushions around the kids. As we rode out the storm, it sounded like an army with baseball bats were ransacking our house. I looked at Terry and said I think this is going to be really bad. The noise of wind, hail and our house ripping apart lasted for about 15 to 20 min. When the storm was over, water began to pour from the basement ceiling, as the house had been lifted off the foundation and all the water pipes had broken. As we made our way with the boys up the stairs, we were greeted by daylight, the roof of our home had been peeled away. There was debris and insulation everywhere. The bedrooms on the main floor on the southwest side of the house were hit the worse.  If we had been in bed, we may not have survived. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the tornado, there were two old concrete grain silos that stood on the acreage that were totally disintegrated into pieces no larger than a football.

They say, after you have been through a traumatic event, there are things that will trigger emotions perhaps for the rest of your life. I myself do not like that term, however I can attest that each spring and summer season as severe weather threatens, my emotions do resurface all over again. We were blessed to be safe and unharmed, but most of our belongings were destroyed. Thankful that we had each other and a community of family and friends that helped us to weather this storm and come out more resilient than ever.

Looking back, we as parents, did the best we knew how to do to help our boys  feel safe. One of the first questions they had was where we would live now, and if they would have to change schools. I didn’t know the answer, but confidently told them we would make sure we would not have to leave their school and friends. We ended up staying at Terry’s parent’s house 25 miles away, for about a month while trying to sort out what insurance was going to cover, and learning about depreciation of the value of your possessions, even though we had full coverage insurance.

Lessons Learned

This tornado taught me a few things.

After a disaster, it is important to help children to feel safe and to maintain as much consistency as possible.  Our boys had been involved in T-ball at the time and we maintained getting them to practices and games so they could be among their friends. Trevor was a 1st year 4-Her and he had already worked on many projects to take to the fair. Tornadoes can do strange things, but one of the first things I carried out of our house that day in May, was his prize insect collection he had spent most of the spring putting together. The house was destroyed all around it, but miraculously it came out unscathed.  It went to the county fair, and on to State Fair earning top honors.

The second lesson I learned is to take time to find joy in each day.  One of the best days after the storm, while still living at my in-laws came when my sister made a visit.  She brought the boys a box full of water toys, squirt guns and water balloons.  We had the best family water fight ever, I remember  laughing so much that my sides hurt. Don’t lose sight of the joy, even in the middle of chaos.

I also learned that it is important to give children a sense of closure for things that would be no more. We ended up finding a house to rent about 5 miles away from our old house.  As we began to put our new home together, we would take the boys back to the old place to tend to the potatoes and pumpkins that they had planted before the storm. They could see the destruction, but also that not everything was destroyed.

I believe my kids all came out of this storm pretty well adjusted, but I wish I had known about access to resources as a parent to help them through this disaster. I am now an Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension on the Learning Child team. I am very proud of all the wonderful and helpful resources that Extension has made available for families, farmers, and ranchers focused on natural disasters and recovery.  I encourage you to visit our websites, flood.unl.edu and https://child.unl.edu/. Here, you will find many tools to help you prepare for or weather the storm and to help with recovery efforts.  Additionally, if you have preschool age children, you can download this free NebGuide: How to Help Preschoolers Manage Their Emotions after a Disaster.  http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2261.pdf

Be prepared I suggest involving your children in creating a disaster preparation kit for your home. Check out this resource for tips on involving your kids in this activity, Lets Pack an Emergency Kit. Having an emergency kit ready will help your child feel safe.  Work together to determine what you need in your kit.

I also recommend having a detailed inventory of your possessions and personal property.  Our insurance agent told us to make a list of everything we lost.  Where do you start?  It would have been helpful if we had an inventory or at least a photo inventory or video of our possessions.  I suggest taking video of your property, opening closets and drawers, room by room, and making a time stamp on the video.  Store this in a safe deposit box and update it annually.

If you are a childcare provider, look for the new course, Emergency Preparedness for Childcare Providers.  I taught this course twice in 2019, and other educators across the state also offer this 6 hour course. You can check with your local Extension office in Nebraska for more information, or search the Early Childhood training calendar https://ecrecords.education.ne.gov/HomePage.aspx.

I hope that this advice is helpful and that you will feel comfortable to seek the resources you need to feel both safe and prepared to face life’s storms.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Helping Children Cope With Severe Storms

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What Do Parents Need To Know?

The more parents encourage their children to talk about severe weather, the better children will feel. Start talking to them right away: When a storm is on the way, after the storm has passed, and time and time again afterwards. Children need to keep talking about their experiences. It is how all of us make sense out of things as human beings.

Children sometimes become the lost souls of a family in crisis. Adults can get so caught up in their own feelings that they don’t realize how emotional and difficult the experience is for children. Also, sometimes adults think it’s better to keep quiet and avoid stirring things up with the kids. But kids are aware that the adults in their lives are dealing with powerful emotions. They know something is happening and it’s important. They may not always get the facts straight, but they’re aware of the tension adults are experiencing. If adults don’t address difficult issues, the children will have to carry this burden all alone. They may feel it’s their fault. Adults need to be aware of what children feel and think, to listen to them, and talk openly and honestly with them.

If unsure where to start, try using the questions below to help get the child(ren) to start talking. This will be an ongoing process: Adults don’t get this figured out in one conversation and neither do children. It may not be easy for adults to discuss this over and over, but it is necessary to help the kids work through their fears and anxieties.

What did you see? How did you feel about it? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

Activities That Can Help Children Cope

  • Have children talk to grandparents or parents and tape record or write down their storm-related stories.
  • Have toys such as fire trucks, ambulances, building blocks, puppets and dolls available that encourage play reenactment of children’s experiences and observations.
  • Children need close physical contact during times of stress to help them feel a sense of belonging and security. Structured children’s games that involve physical touching are helpful in this regard; for example, Ring Around the Rosie; London Bridge; Duck, Duck, Goose; and so forth.
  • Have the children do a mural on long paper or draw pictures about the storm focusing on what happened in their house or neighborhood when the big storm hit. Adults should help discuss these drawings afterwards.
  • When adults share their own feelings, fears and experiences, it legitimizes children’s feelings and helps them feel less isolated. If adults were afraid, then it’s OK for children to be afraid, also.
  • Adults need to admit when they don’t know the answers to questions. Find out the answers and let the children know what they are.
  • Explain to children that disasters are very unpredictable, and may cause things to happen that can even trouble adults. Even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.

Know When To Make Referrals

The following list of behaviors could indicate a child may need qualified professional help to deal with the storm-related stress. When the child:

  • demonstrates the desire to hurt himself or herself or others;
  • repeatedly expresses himself or herself in somber or self-deprecating terms;
  • starts to rely on dark colors and themes in artwork;
  • continues to act out aggressively or violently;
  • becomes more immature or too mature;
  • repeatedly wants to be alone;
  • sets fires or commits other destructive acts; and
  • deliberately and repeated harms animals.
Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This post was previously published as a PDF in 2005 for NebFact. It was originally written by Manning and is used with her permission.

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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